Is a Latte Hot or Cold?


A latte with a thin microfoam and beautiful art

Have you ever ordered a latte at your favorite coffee shop and the barista asked you whether you wanted it hot or cold? Well, it’s a common occurrence that bewilders a lot of customers.

To start off, the barista is just performing her responsibility: to get your order to a T.

This scenario then begs the question; is a latte hot or cold?

A latte is a hot drink that is served at about 160°F and is comprised of hot espresso and steamed milk with a thin layer of froth. The espresso is brewed at about 195-205°F and the milk is steamed to about 140-165°F.

However, you can specifically ask for a cold/iced latte that is hot espresso added to a cup of ice and chilled milk. Otherwise, a latte implies a hot drink.

If a latte is hot then why do baristas seek clarification as to whether you want it hot or cold?

Historically a latte is hot, however, some customers are in the habit of ordering a latte – while they actually want a cold latte – without specifying that they want it cold. This leads to wastage of milk, coffee, and time, and time wastage when the barista has to make a new drink.

It’s also not a good experience for both the customer and the barista. Consequently, the baristas have learned to probe further when a customer orders a latte to avoid misunderstandings.

Can a Latte Be Warm?

You can get a warm latte by reducing the temperature at which milk is steamed. For example, Starbucks used to have “kids temperature” where the barista would serve the drink at 130°F.

Steaming milk at a lower temperature breaks down the lactose to create natural sweetness in the milk. Very high temperatures, on the other hand, destroy the sugar compounds and can completely breakdown the milk proteins thus ruining the foam.

When ordering a warm latte at a cafe, ask for a latte at a temperature of 130°F(54°C). Generally, lattes at home are in the warm temperature range because:

  • most of the frothing equipment that we use at home froths at a lower temperature
  • unlike professional baristas who are pretty fast, we tend to take a lot of time to make a latte. By the time we are done the latte is not very hot

What’s the Deal With Extra Hot Drinks?

Some customers prefer their hot drinks extra hot because of the need to take the drink on-the-go and drink it at a separate location without having to drink it on the way. Also, during winter a few more people tend to prefer extra-hot drinks.

To make a latte that is extra hot, the barista

  • Steams the milk to about 180°F
  • Preheats your cup
  • Serves the drink within a few seconds of brewing

An extra-hot latte lacks the sweetness and balanced flavors of a regular latte. The closer the steaming temperature is to the boiling point (212°F), the more the milk loses its natural sweetness. The milk can also acquire some burnt flavors as the temperature approaches scorching levels.

Why is my Latte too Cold?

If your latte is too cold, it is probably because of the following reasons

  1. You are steaming the milk at very low temperatures
  2. You are not matching espresso extraction and steaming milk
  3. You are not preheating your cup
  4. Your cup is not suitable for maintaining drinks warmer

Solutions for a Latte that is too Cold

To make your latte hotter:

1. Steam at a Higher Temperature

For most people, 140°F and below is too cold for coffee. Although steaming milk at 140°F creates more sweetness, the milk leads to a not very hot latte. Use a thermometer and experiment with higher steaming temperatures up to 165°F.

2. Simulataneous Pulling and Steaming

A mismatch between pulling espresso and steaming milk creates a situation where one of them sits as you prepare the other. When using an espresso machine that has a double-boiler, start the espresso and simultaneously steam the milk.

For single-boiler coffee makers, preheating the cup and steaming the milk immediately after the espresso is done ensures that the espresso is still very hot by the time you are done steaming.

3. Preheat The Cup

Running a water-only brew cycle complete with a portafilter and a mug in place preheats your espresso equipment hence the espresso drops at the right temperature and the hot mug maintains the temperature for a longer period.

4. Change The Mug

The type of cup that you are using for your latte affects how long your drink stays warm. Thicker mugs with narrower mouths tend to keep drinks warmer for longer periods. A thermal insulated travel mug is an excellent choice when you intend to drink your latte later.

Are Lattes Healthy?

A classic latte is just steamed milk and espresso. Using non-dairy milk options can significantly improve the nutritional value of the latte while eliminating the risks associated with dairy milk. Reduced-fat milk and skim milk are excellent choices when you prefer dairy milk.

A decaf latte has lesser caffeine than a regular latte. A decaf latte is made with decaffeinated coffee beans. The decaf espresso that has 3-16mg of caffeine is then added to steamed milk or the other way around depending on the coffee shop.

Adding natural sweeteners such as honey instead of artificial sugars can go a long way in making your latte more healthy.

Hot Latte vs Iced Latte

VariablesHot LatteIced Latte
Hot espressoYesYes
Steamed milkYesNo
FoamYesNo
Chilled milkNoYes
IceNoYes
Hot latte vs iced latte

Iced lattes are most often sweetened during preparation.

Latte vs Coffee

Generally, black coffee is stronger than a latte because the milk proteins in a latte hush the strength of the espresso. The natural sweetness of steamed milk also enhances the flavor of a latte making it more delicious than coffee hence lattes are ideal for coffee beginners.

A latte uses 2 ounces of espresso unlike filter coffee that can be a full cup of coffee, therefore, a latte has less caffeine than coffee.

How To Order A Latte

When ordering a latte, start with the desired cup size such as large, medium, or small. Ask for either regular coffee or decaf and your choice of milk/milk substitute.

You would be prudent to clarify that you want a hot latte. If you wish to sweeten your latte, ask about the available flavors, sugar, and sugar substitutes.

Wrap Up

Although lattes are hot by definition, the growing popularity of iced lattes has led to confusion when ordering at a cafe. You are better off specifying from the onset that you wish to have a hot latte or a cold latte to avoid misunderstandings.

Patrick

Patrick is first a coffee lover and then a trained barista. His bucket list includes sky diving and sipping on Java in the Himalayas.

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